Knowledge Management and the Supply Chain

Supply chain agence-olloweb-520953-unsplashAt NuGen we realised from the outset that managing supply chain knowledge would be one our key focus areas.

In Blog One I briefly described why we made supply chain KM a strategic theme. Before signing off my fourth and final contribution to the guest blog  series, I’ll expand on the background to that decision and describe some of our initial work in this area.

Why does supply chain knowledge management (KM) represent a significant challenge on large construction projects?

In essence,  strategies for knowledge identification, capture, retention and transfer can be complex in projects that depend, for their success,  on a network of customer and supplier relationships. Arguably these core KM requirements are the same for projects undertaken by a ‘stand-alone’ organisation. However, the level of focus is likely to differ in the two contexts; especially when projects involving a supply chain seek to address such questions as:

  • ‘What knowledge is required?’
  • ‘Who ‘possesses’ that knowledge?’
  • ‘How do you capture and transfer that knowledge,
    • to whom,
    • when,
    • and through what methods?’

The potential for added complexity can stem from a number of factors, including:

  • The number of parties involved in the project and the ‘distributed’ nature of key design information and knowledge
  • Lengthy project timespans
  • Differences in KM processes and tools between project partners
  • Differences in the business priority given to KM or in the appreciation of ‘knowledge loss risks’ that may impact overall project success.

Contractual and legal aspects can also have a bearing on supply chain KM arrangements. Commonly there are intellectual property issues to be negotiated.  Compliance with ‘Export Control’ regulations may be a factor if the project involves the supply and exchange of certain restricted technologies between countries. These regulations cover the transfer of ‘know-how’ as well as physical goods – thus adding a further dimension to any collaborative activity taking place in this context.

Even before the stoppage of the Moorside project we had already engaged in early knowledge transfer activities with members of our supply chain.

Most significant amongst these early efforts was the development and initial execution of a ‘Knowledge Transfer’ programme with the organisation that was originally to provide the nuclear reactor technology. Contracts were placed with the reactor vendor to jointly specify and develop a programme which would enable NuGen to build a detailed understanding of important topic areas relating to the reactor design – thereby supporting the organisation to take on, over time,  the role of a competent Design Authority  and ‘intelligent customer’ (Blog 2).

In-depth knowledge cannot be transferred overnight. Consequently the intention was to phase the work, and build the organisational competency and capability, in line with the needs of the overall Moorside programme.

A further characteristic of the work with the reactor vendor was the range of methods to be deployed.  These were intended to address  both tacit and explicit knowledge transfer.  To that end, the methods were to include a  blend of:

  • formal classroom training,
  • access to documentation,
  • direct engagement with the relevant experts within the vendor organisation,
  • embedded team working through secondments.

Between September 2016 and May 2017 we set about implementing a programme of activity. Unfortunately these activities were then cut short by organisational changes; changes that were ultimately to lead to the stoppage of the overall Moorside programme as referred to in my earlier blogs.

If the programme had continued what would have been our next steps?

Beyond progressing the reactor knowledge transfer activity our next objective was to ensure that arrangements for KM were included in future supply chain contracts. To this end we drafted a set of requirements that made clear the importance of knowledge management to the project.  These covered aspects such as:

  • collaborative working
  • identification and management of critical knowledge assets
  • a common approach to (KM) methods and tools.

In Conclusion

As in the previous blogs in this series I have tried to give a flavour of the knowledge management considerations at NuGen. Sadly, with the stoppage of the Moorside programme, it is not possible to fully evaluate the extent to which our work on the foundations for KM  would prove successful. We were only able to scratch the surface.  There would, for sure, have been  ‘twists and turns’ as the strategy evolved and we learned what did and didn’t work.  But I hope I have been able to communicate something of our early thinking in developing a practical and meaningful knowledge management programme on what would have been a large and complex nuclear new build project.

If you would like to discuss any of the topics covered in this series of blogs in more detail then don’t hesitate to contact me.

Return to Clive’s previous blog

Clive Bright,
Knowledge Management Consultant,
https://www.linkedin.com/in/clivebright/

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